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What is the average number of times disability is denied?

Every day on our forum we get a variety of questions about disability and one of the most common ones is, “How many times on average is a disability denied before it is approved?” This question, although interesting, is not really relevant to most claimants. Instead of focusing on “averages” it makes more sense to focus on how to make sure your disability case is approved the first time you apply or to evaluate cases that are ALWAYS approved and figure out how to improve your own SSDI or SSI case.

But with that said, it is good to know that at the application level up to 65-70% of cases are denied. Given that over 3 million people applied for disability last year this means that there are thousands of SSDI and SSI applications which are denied each year.

At the reconsideration level, which is the first step in the appeals process, up to 80% of applications are denied, a staggering number, but the odds of approval increase if you appeal your SSDI or SSI application a second time and schedule a hearing before an administrative law judge. In fact, many judges in certain parts of the country have a fairly high approval rating.

So if the average number of times your SSDI or SSI application is denied is not really a relevant gage, what is? The best thing to do if you want to be approved the first time you apply is to understand what types of cases are approved the first time the applicant applies and make sure your SSDI or SSI case is similar to these cases. So let’s review what cases are approved immediately.

Cases that are approved at the application level


Although it seems that all SSDI and SSI applications are immediately denied there are actually thousands of applications which are approved immediately. The two best ways to win SSDI or SSI benefits at the application level is to have a condition on the Compassionate allowance list or one which “meets or exceeds” a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments.

  • Compassionate Allowance Cases


The Compassionate Allowances (CAL) List is a list of conditions that the SSA considers automatically disabling. The SSA has also enacted a process to identify these conditions, expedite the application evaluation process and approve benefits immediately. Effective August 13, 2012, the SSA will add another 52 conditions to the Compassionate Allowance List bringing the total number of CAL conditions to 165.

  • Conditions which automatically meet a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments


The Social Security Administration also maintains a list of symptoms and conditions which they consider automatically disabling called the SSA Listing of Impairments or Blue Book. The SSA assumes that ifa claimant has a condition that meet or exceeds a listing they will be unable to perform substantial gainful activity for at least 12 continuous months. The SSA will immediately approve their case, assuming they meet the nonmedical requirements for the SSDI or SSI program.

Claimants who do not meet the requirements of the programs outlined above will have difficulty winning the first time they submit their SSDI or SSI application and generally will have to appeal the denial decision, where their best chance of winning benefits will be at the Administrative Hearing level.
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